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Cabinet approves 10 per cent quota for economically backward upper castes

New Delhi, Jan 7 (IANS) With an eye on the upper caste vote in the coming Lok Sabha elections, the Union Cabinet on Monday approved 10 per cent reservation for economically backward people in the general category in jobs and educational institutions, a decision that came under attack from the Opposition which described it as an election gimmick aimed at misleading the voters.

The Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took the decision to provide for 10 per cent quota for people belonging to "unreserved categories", including Christians and Muslims, in jobs and education with an annual income limit of Rs 8 lakh and a land holding ceiling of about five acres, highly placed sources said.

A Constitution amendment bill for the purpose is likely to be introduced in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.

The sources said the proposed move will not disturb the existing 50 per cent reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.

"The quota will include sections not falling under any provision of reservation such as Brahmins, Banias, Thakurs, Jats, Gujjars, Muslims and Christians," a source privy to the decision told IANS.

He said that rules will be framed in due course to implement the Cabinet decision.

The decision comes four months before the Lok Sabha polls and after the reverses suffered by the BJP in the Assembly polls in the Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

The BJP was said to have faced the wrath of the upper castes, especially in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, over the amendment brought by the Central government to nullify the Supreme Court judgement in the SC-ST Act last year.

The idea has also been favoured by the RSS, which has been demanding a quota on these lines.

The move, a step to consolidate upper caste votes, was dubbed as "election gimmick" by the Opposition parties which questioned its legality vis-a-vis the Supreme Court putting a cap of 50 per cent on reservations.

"Did you (government) not think of this for 4 years and 8 months? So, obviously thought of as an election gimmick 3 months before the model code. You know you cannot exceed 50 per cent cap, so it is done only to posture that you tried an unconstitutional thing," Congress Spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.

"Forward reservation is a gimmick to fool people, the 50 per cent cap continues to be law," he said citing the M R Balaji case in which the Supreme Court put a 50 per cent cap on reservations.

"Government only misleading nation. Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan tried exceeding 50 per cent quota but was struck down by court. Modi, BJP clearly think Indian public eats grass," said Singhvi adding that the move was a sign of Modi's "fear and certainty of losing 2019 elections".

Communist Party of India's (CPI) D.Raja said the move indicated the ruling BJP's desperation.

"What exactly they (government) have decided we don't know. How they have defined 'backwardness' we don't know. Already the Supreme Court has put a cap on reservation at 50 per cent. That has not been challenged by the Central government, which means the cap remains.

"So in this case, what Supreme Court is going to do we don't know. There are many questions which need to be answered. They have to come before Parliament. The BJP is desperate, it is panicking and rattled. It wants to do certain things for fear of losing vote base," said Raja.

Supreme Court advocate and nominated Rajya Sabha member K.T.S. Tulsi said: "This looks like an attempt in the direction of abolishing the entire reservation system."

Speaking in a similar vein, former Union Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha dubbed the move as a "jumla" (fake promise).

Sinha questioned the government's intent citing legal complexities and paucity of time as the current session of Parliament is scheduled to end on Tuesday.

However, the government defended the decision saying this was not aimed at placating the upper castes but was in keeping with the principle of "sabka saath, sabka vikas" (development for all).

Minister of State for Finance Shiv Pratap Shukla said, "This is not an attempt to placate the upper castes. We are trying to give them their right. We are not doing a favour to them. It is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's motto of 'sabka sath, sabka vikas'.

"Those who do not want to get this bill passed in Parliament may go ahead. We will try to get this bill passed," he said.

Udit Raj, a Dalit MP belonging to the BJP, said it was a "bold" decision.

--IANS

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